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Salish Sea Sentinel | November 16, 2018

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Awaken the Canoes: Pullers prepare for summer journeys at Klahoose

Awaken the Canoes: Pullers prepare for summer journeys at Klahoose

By Cara McKenna
Photos by Cara McKenna and Kyle Charlie

Jodi Simkin was the director of Tribal Journeys last year when a U.S. canoe went down in Nanoose, ejecting pullers into the cold and tumultuous ocean water.

A dramatic video of the incident quickly made the rounds on Facebook and, as of this year, has been viewed more than 15,000 times.

But when Simkin got a phone call about the incident from one of the accompanying support boat captains, he was completely calm, ensuring her that everything was fine and the paddlers were rescued.

“He said: ‘Hey I don’t want you to see this on Facebook or anything and I don’t want you to panic,’” she recalled. “’Everyone is fine, everyone is accounted for, no big deal.’”

So Simkin moved on with her day-to-day tasks and didn’t think much more of it. It wasn’t until months later that she came across video of the incident on YouTube and was alarmed at how treacherous the situation actually looked.

canoes coming up on shoreShe quickly realized that had it been a different, less-experienced canoe in the same situation, things could have been much worse.

“U.S. canoes are well-versed in safety exercises, it just didn’t seem alarming to them, but it wasn’t that they didn’t care. It was that the American canoes are so prepared because they do cold water and deep water training all year,” she said. “We started having a conversation
about how we could work with the Canadian Coast Guard (in a similar way).”

Shortly after Tribal Canoe Journeys ended last year, Simkin was hired as a director of cultural affairs and heritage with Klahoose First Nation.

She quickly got to work in organizing a weekend-long canoe event to prepare pullers for Tribal Canoe Journeys.

The event called Awaken the Canoes (ti:ǰit nuxʷɛɬ) took place in mid-May, and involved pullers from five canoes including one from Klahoose and two from Tla’amin.

The pullers met in Klahoose territory where the Canadian Coast Guard provided safety information and offered tips on how to prepare for emergencies on the water. The next day, canoes headed out to practice in local waters.

Klahoose Chief Kevin Peacey said when Simkin came to leadership with the idea to prepare for larger summer canoe journeys, they were immediately on board.

He said having members of the nation participate in canoe journeys is part of a wider vision to revive culture in the community. That has included re-establishing ancient connections between sister nations Klahoose, Tla’amin and Homalco that were broken during colonization.

“We’re still doing our culture night every Wednesday night, we’ve learned our own songs now and we have five new songs,” said Peacey, who was elected last April. “In the last paddle we did last year we actually got to hang out most of the trip with Homalco and Tla’amin. We got to go into the big house together and we sang together and drummed together. It was so powerful and it’s something we haven’t done.”

Before Awaken the Canoes, Simkin tracked down some paperwork about Klahoose in an American museum that contained information about an “Earth Oven” that the nation used hundreds of years ago.

When canoes arrived in Klahoose on May 18, they were served meat and vegetables that were prepared in that traditional way, involving layering the food over hot coals with salal and other plants.

“It’s amazing to learn about Klahoose and about what we did back in the day,” Peacey said. “Jodi is working hard on bringing a lot of stuff back for us, so we’re going to go back to our old ways.”

Klahoose is one of ninety nations registered to participate in the 2018 Tribal Canoe Journey to Puyallup, WA, between July 28 and August 4.